Movie popcorn for $1! Broadway for $90! Entertainment prices finally get saner

They say that in lean times, the entertainment biz booms. That's not completely true this time around. Although box office receipts are up 17% compared to a year ago, studios are buying fewer features, and Hollywood still hasn't figured out how to deal with the long-term onslaught of new media and movies-on-demand.

But at least we're seeing some stronger value in the aisles. The Carmike cinema chain, which operates 2,276 screens in 36 states, wants to make Tuesday your movie night, and to fill those seats, it's marking its popcorn and soda down to $1. For two bucks, you can get 16 ounces of pop and 46 ounces of popcorn for two Georges. That's still a few times what they cost to make, but it's surprising that the multiplex chain would do it, since the concession stand is typically where a cinema makes money once the studios and distributors are done skimming the box office receipts.

AMC, which has long offered the first movie of the day on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday for half price (I've learned to get my movie-going in at the 11am shows in New York City, where the movies not only cost $6, but also are never sold out), has rolled out a limited menu of concession items that cost $3 each, or cost $7.50 for three. Still not cheap, but at least you no longer need a letter of credit to take your date out.


Perhaps the greatest challenge in getting audiences out of the house is faced by live theater, particularly production-heavy musicals. The typical top ticket price for a Broadway musical has been $131, and a few years ago, some shows were fetching "premium" ticket prices upward of $200. Wicked asks, and gets, that rate nightly for most of its best seats. But newcomer Rock of Ages, a "jukebox musical" of '80s rock tune covers, starts performances March 20 with a top weekday price of $90--a cut of more than 25%, and back to where the top price was nearly a decade ago.


Okay, so you're not getting Shakespeare for that, but a show that wouldn't be out of place in a Vegas showroom or on Lido deck. And the star talent isn't Kelli O'Hara or Patti LuPone, but Constantine Maroulis, the dimple-chinned American Idol cast-off who, beside having a decent voice, is famous for peering upward past his forehead like Luke Perry in 1994 heartthrob mode. Still, $90 is also a price you haven't seen since the mid-'90s, and any reduction like that is a welcome step for Broadway, which has been killing itself with stratospheric prices faster than cultural obsolescence could do.

The recession is ushering in a welcome return to our savings habits, our spending habits, and our understanding of how finances flow, or don't, in a society. It's good to see that correction expanding to the world of entertainment, and watching our culture returning to our means.

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